On Wednesday, April 3, the Merritt & District Chamber of Commerce hosted an all-candidates forum at the Merritt Civic Centre.

The four candidates – Yvette Baxter, Peter Coghill, Norma Jean Littleton, and Michael ‘MJ’ Phillips – spent approximately two hours answering questions from Merrittonians and the current city council.

The forum was moderated by Darcy McLeod. McLeod has also moderated candidate forums for the City of Vancouver’s mayoral election, federal housing debate in Ottawa, and the provincial election housing forum in Victoria.

Topics such as qualifications, leadership, economics, infrastructure, and more were discussed.

What’s the top issue you’re dedicated to addressing?

Baxter: “Working with local bands and trying to make sure we all work together so that we can prevent floods in the future.”

Coghill: “Liability, finding resources to come to Merritt, businesses.”

Littleton: “I’m really interested in the water, the condition, because so many people complain about the way it used to be, and then the chlorine flavour and they can’t drink it from the tap.”

Phillips: “Our aquifers are running dry.”

The role of the city in homelessness?

Baxter: “I believe it’s not the city’s problem per homeless, we can help them find agencies but if we start using taxpayer dollars to pay for homeless people, we will get taxed even further.”

Coghill: “Working with individuals and the communities around to find out what’s happening with the homeless people… They have a really good program that they’re doing in Edmonton about trying to help and try to get to root of the issues of that and if we don’t address the homelessness, then that’s when we start to get mental health and drug addictions.”

Littleton: “I think that it’s worth the research to see the grant as much as we can to help them because if they don’t know the how they have a problem, they don’t know what it is, how do they deal with it? So there’s counseling that’s needed. It’s a high suicide rate with these people and then I think that’s important to look at and try to get to the bottom and like Edmonton, try to solve solve the homelessness.”

Phillips: “Our goal should be trying to figure out ways to go and help these people that are out there that have addictions to be able to go and get their lives together and trying to get themselves into a living situation that can work for them.”

Photo/Kenneth Wong

The byelection winner will be entering office 18 months into a term, how will you catch up?

Baxter: “You have to hit the ground running, you have to talk to every single councillor as soon as you get into the office, you have to find out how far they’ve gotten, what they’re working on, and what they’re going to plan to for the future and you have to just work your butt off is at the beginning, you’re good playing catch up so you’re running at 100 miles an hour, and you’re trying to get to the same point that other councillors are at.”

Coghill: “You kinda just have to dive into it and do a lot of research, a lot of back checking on what council has been doing for the last 10 years, not just the last two years, because they’re taking over for a group that was before them and they’re finishing off some of tier stuff that they might have already started back then.”

Littleton: “If you’re going to take a job on like this, you’ve got to have a passion for working and following the needs of the mayor and the council and follow the lead where they’re at, and just stay, work, and research and be pliable. It’ll be willing to learn and it’s a new adventure, but if you’ve got your energy there and you’re willing to work, then how can you go wrong?”

Phillips: “I like to go and I keep track of what’s going on, so I read the minutes and sometimes I watched the whole meetings, but not all of them, but a good portion of them I’ve watched and trying to keep up to date on all the little details… Joining the council, I’m going to be heading in partly in the dark and because it’s a new experience, and I’m happy to get acclimated to how the system works. I understand Robert’s Rules of Order so I have that going for me.”

Photo/Kenneth Wong

As the countdown to April 20 comes closer and closer, the forum provided an opportunity for residents to better understand the candidates and their platforms.

The byelection winner will serve as city councillor until November 2026.